Tag Archives: Dog

Malingering WInter

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

 

Malingering, according to my Shorter Oxford means    to pretend illness in order to escape duty, said especially of soldiers and sailors.  I have a new definition:  lingering in the vicinity with malicious intent, for example, this winter that is still here, lingering maliciously via a wintery mix, two days after the spring equinox.

Now, I’m a big fan of winter in general.  What’s not to like?  There’s the magic of snow falling, blanketing the world, forcing a slowdown, and bringing a quiet that is rare even here in the woods.  I think most people who don’t care for the vagaries of winter are those who have a hard time slowing down and those who allow the weather to limit their activity.  My days don’t change much through the seasons.  I walk twice a day, at least, every day because I feel better for doing so and the dog requires that routine.  Even though he could go for his own walks, he likes to know that I am on patrol as well.  Walking in the winter is actually easier because I can add clothes layers as needed to suit the conditions and I have excellent traction devices as needed too.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Dogs stay cleaner in a cold winter.  No mud.  This winter could have been better with more actual snow and less wintery mix, (freezing rain and sleet ruin good snow for snowshoeing) but it was nice and cold for a  prolonged time.  I have a trail we walk in the afternoon up the hill.  I go fast uphill and Murphy and I both love running downhill in the snow.  I run no matter the footgear, snowshoes, cleats or bare boots.  I run because it’s easier to get momentum and keep it and I figure if it’s slippery (which it usually is, especially where I have already compressed the snow) then the less time my feet are on the ground the less chance to slide suddenly.

 

Ice on a staghorn sumac.  Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

Ice on a staghorn sumac. Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

The crusty conditions this winter made running downhill more of a challenge.  The frozen trail was mostly a ribbon of mini moguls and stepping to the side could mean going through crust to softer deeper snow.  Concentration is key, but I get laughing as I run because Murphy is often right on my heels so I can’t stop.  I think he thinks it’s funny to run downhill in the snow, nearly on top of me.

This winter we had not enough snow that got crusted with freezing rain, frequently, so I walked shod with cleats mostly and finally found some kickass cleats that  allow me to tap dance on icy hills like our driveway this past December.  My new cleats, Katoohla Microspikes, are like tire chains for my feet.  They have come in really handy when I needed to climb the icy hill no matter the conditions to retrieve Murphy from his bark about patrols.

Several times a week Murphy doesn’t come home from the walk and instead does his patrol of the ridge: ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  He’s a Great Pyrenees by temperament and he could do this all night long.  Slow to learn me, I only just realized that we have been playing a game of his devising.  I call it stalking.  I head up the hill and try to circle around behind and get close enough to him so that he has to acknowledge me and come.  He won’t come when I call because he is on a mission, eliminating all denizens from the area.  I usually fail at round one.  He moves farther away or goes silent.  I concede by walking back toward our dooryard.  In December I would do this so as night fell I could more easily see to get back in the near dark.  I have a headlamp but it is still hard to bushwhack in the dark with a small light.  Easier with deep snow to follow my tracks.

Anyway, once I start walking away, I make some noise and then stop.  Within a minute Murphy comes racing up to where I am, winner of the second round.  Sometimes he really surprises me by leaping out from thick trees nearly in front of me.  I yelp and he looks most gratified.  He gets cookies  and praise and leashed and we head for home.  Sometimes if it’s not too close to nightfall we stop and contemplate the universe.  When there is snow on the ground it’s more easy to see where Murphy sits to keep an eye on things below.  I’m sure he is getting most of his information with his nose but I mostly look and listen.  Crouched on the top of a frozen hill in the spooky woods in January I hear the wind waves in  patterns like the ocean waves.  Ah, to be a bird and be able to surf those waves.

Alas, wingless, bound by gravity, still there is fun to be had.  Now that Spring is here we occasionally get a slightly warming day with some melt between  the sub-zero and wintery mix days.  There are patches of smooth ice on the edges of the road still frozen on the morning walks.  I go cleat-less  and run and slide as far as the leash will let me while Murphy checks the pee-mail.  He gets to make his mark five feet up the trees courtesy of the snow banks beside the road.  Later, those that can perceive it will think a giant dog lives here.

There are lacy ice-edged, frozen puddles to crunch along and later in the day, if it warms enough, slushy snow to squash beneath my feet.  Running downhill then has a lot more slide to it.

While waiting for Murphy to catch me up on the trail loop I discovered a big old pine tree drum.  I was breaking dead branches off the bottom and the remaining bits have several nice tones depending on my striker so I stop as I walk by and drum on the hill sometimes.

It’s all fun and mostly I’ve had a good winter, even trapped by the ice storm over the winter holidays.  I got chains for my truck so I could climb the ice hill so no worries there. Still, I have about two days of wood left in the garage and I will need to move some of my last cord of wood that is stacked (and covered, luckily) outside.  I had hoped that more snow would be gone but now it looks like I’ll have to hack out the pickup and clear out the back so I can load wood and move it.

So for many, maybe most, winter is lingering with malicious intent, but I’m still playing here.  Yippee!

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

 

 

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It’s good to be the dog

Murphy, Scourge of the Forest, back at his post. ‘Whatever. It’s Spring and there are denizens of the forest to terrorize.’

It IS good to be the dog, at least in my world.  There is routine and a most important guard job, a faithful cat companion and an understanding person who allows for the predator, alpha-guardian nature to be expressed, MOSTLY in a harmless way.

I am envious, most days, of Murphy and his lifestyle.  There is the waiting, for good things to happen, but he knows that good things will happen:  the morning ablution walk, the longer ramble in the woods, crunchy cookies (dried chicken breast), meat with salmon oil in a cat food dish, and the nightly vigil that might include barking.  Also there are good surprises, like intruders to be on the alert for and rides in the truck, sometimes to distant places to visit friends in Vermont or Martha’s Vineyard or New Brunswick.  Yeah!!  I am still astounded most days by his mostly exemplary behaviour so he receives regular praise.  He really is good at his job.

Then there is the 3% of the time when ‘exemplary’ is not the descriptive word, and ‘pain in the *&#’ and ‘Scourge of the Forest’ are terms that come to mind.  It was a difficult winter because the lack of snow meant it was easier for Murphy to chose to go on a Bark About rather than return from the afternoon walk.  Typical of the giant guardian breeds, if you are anywhere in the same 100 square mile area of the woods, that is a walk with your person.  Sometimes he’s funny and races home just as I get there (olly,olly in free!) but once a week through the winter he decided to patrol the ridge or go on a hunt and I had to trick him to get the leash on him and marched back to his post at the castle.

March was warm though and he went through a good period until the coolness of April and the movement of the denning animals coincided.  One afternoon, instead of hanging around waiting for the first person to head up the hill with him, Murphy was barking his ‘I have something cornered and I can almost reach!’ bark, much too close to our neighbours who have been quick to call the dog officer when he’s strayed.  SO up the hill I went, leashed him, and brought him back to be tied, earlier than usual.

‘Five more minutes and I would have driven that racoon crazy enough to leave the safety of the hollow under the rock.’

Whatever animal it was, he remembered the next two afternoons, and our neighbours called both times as I realized and brought him home.  So I decided that it was time to do the Northern Pond walk again.  It’s away from people who might worry about him killing something, he gets more exercise (as do I) and he needs to get home by vehicle so, theoretically, he should end the walk when I do.   Ah, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes the scent of something gets him on the silent hunt and call as I might, that lure is more compelling than riding home with me.  And he knows that the trail is not so far from home.  In the past I’ve left him and returned a couple of hours later and he’s hiding in the trees by the entrance, waiting for me to pick him up.  Well, except for one day when I had errands that took me south for several hours and when I returned he wasn’t there;  he’d hitched a ride home with a kind-hearted person who lives on the Dahlia Farm Road.  Good thing his name and address are on his collar.

Two days in a row we had good walk experiences.  We met others but he mostly behaved (wanted to kill a wimpy greyhound but I was ready with the leash and no damage done) and all was well.  Then the third day he didn’t catch up with me on the last leg of the trail.  I called but no Murphy.  Sometimes he cuts to the road and meets me as I’m driving home so he doesn’t have to go all the way back to where we started but this day he did not.  I drove back and forth then went home to eat thinking that I’d return in a couple of hours.

I was just finishing my soup when the phone rang.  ‘Do you have a dog on The Dahlia Farm Road?’  ‘Do you have my dog?’  Yes, he was at the entrance to Northern Pond, watching for me and a friendly electric company dude driving a huge bucket truck stopped to see if his tags had any info, which of course they did.  He said he’d wait with Murphy until I got there (how cool is that?) and when I drove up there was Murph, looking slightly bemused and eager to get in the truck.  Maybe he’s related to Blanche, (‘Ah relyah on the kindness of strangahs….’)

Always an adventure, and the cool seasons are most trouble.  Now that the temperature is warming the energy exertion will be minimized, luckily and Murphy avoids the excess activity and lies on the lawn, soaking up the warmth of the sun, waiting.  Gooooooood dooooooog………..

The waiting is best done lying down.

Captain of the Palace Guard

Murphy the Vigilant, sits up straight, squarely on his haunches, ready to spring into action.

A Great Pyrenees (a.k.a Pyrenees Mountain Dog) would not be my choice for an easy dog to own.  I know my style.  I like the easy-going, tractable gentle giants that need regular exercise in the form of long walks but spend most of their time impersonating lumpy rugs.  Size, without aggression as a deterrent is what I appreciate.  There are thousands of dogs looking for homes because their humans didn’t know what they really could handle in a dog companion and chose based on looks, only to find out later that the work involved or the energy level of the dog did not suit.

I ended up with Murphy inadvertently, a bit like how I bought a rug once at an auction: I didn’t mean to be the last bidder but suddenly I was the lucky owner.  I was surfing Petfinder.com just to see, another something I don’t recommend for the soft-hearted.  It’s too sad to see all the dogs who just want somewhere to belong and someone to have as their person.  Saddest are the older dogs.  It’s just wrong to give a home to a dog for eight years and then abandon the dog when it’s older and needs it’s secure home the most.

I was torturing myself, three months after having to put down my thirteen year old Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper.  I saw the posting for Murphy that said he was a Great Pyrenees/Lab cross and I thought the independent stubborn Pyr might be tempered by the tractable, obedient, companion Lab so I fired off an inquiry.  My experience in BC was that the process to adopt was a slow one.  Some agencies were nearly unreasonable with their criteria.   I really didn’t think much would come of my query, but the wonderful people at Almost Home whipped into action, checking my references and did a home inspection to see what it was like here.

I thought the lack of fenced yard would be a deal breaker but turned out to be not a problem and we were told that Murphy liked cats and got along with the cat and dog where he was staying.  I had great references from my vet in BC who had helped me with Jasper through his last very difficult year so I got approved and went to pick him up.

Almost immediately I though I’d made a big mistake.  Murphy was ten months old and had very little training.  He jumped up on things and people and used his paws aggressively to get more attention and was generally unruly.   I didn’t let on but I wasn’t sure I could do much with him.  I can say now with authority that with consistent training any dog can become a good one within their genetic trait parameters.

At first he was on a short leash in the house because he wanted to chase the cats.  That lasted for a couple of months until Mozart finally decided to take back his place as top dude and stopped running.  Now they are best buds and sleep together and guard in tandem as well.  I worked to get him to stop the pawing for attention, jumping up on people coming through the door, going through any door first or without permission and worked on making him wait for his food.

Murphy shares his bowl with Mozart (who prefers to drink from the dog bowl.)

I’ve come to realize that while Murphy may not be a purebred Great Pyrenees, he has all of the traits and characteristics of one.  There is nothing Lab-like about him except for his ears.  He doesn’t retrieve or even play with toys and he doesn’t like to swim.  He doesn’t even like to get wet.  No, Murphy is a guard dog, a guardian.  Three thousand years as a breed, Pyrs are ALWAYS guarding what belongs to them. Great Pyrenees will never be at the top of a dog intelligence list but they should be.  Those lists are made by humans who value tractability and instant obedience to commands.   Pyrs are incredibly smart but genetically predisposed to work without direction so they always think they know better  and follow their own instinct first in any situation and only listen to their person after being hammered with a command many times.

Pyrs can guard a large area, much larger than the twenty acres that we live on that luckily blend into other woods.  Murphy needed to be tied at first because any activity on the road below would have him charging down to repel possible intruders.   After a year I started allowing him  off the line when someone was in the yard.  Our closest neighbour can be seen down the hill and  across a field with a line of trees marking the property line.  They were helpful enough to call whenever he went there so I could collect him and bring him back to be tied.  Eventually he learned to stay in the yard.

Maintaining one of his good vantage points

The magic year is two.  Starting then Murphy began to show signs that he could (sort of) accommodate the lifestyle we had here.  Lucky for him we don’t live in Suburbia with the fenced-in postage stamps, nor do we live close to farmers with those lovely chickens that make such a lovely squawking noise (at first).  As a guard dog he has a high predator instinct and any animal that doesn’t belong here is the enemy and fair game.  Too late I learned that because of their nature, Great Pyrenees should be heavily socialized at a young age with other dogs.  His arrival coincided with my mother’s hospitalization and death so he didn’t get that needed contact with other dogs at the right age.  He’s ok with other dogs but I never know.  Some he loves and some he wants to kill and all dogs he leans on, asserting his dominance.  If they growl he takes that as an invitation to fight.  I have a feeling that Pyrs are naturally alphas, mostly, which requires a strong hand.  He’s better off the leash than on but is not reliable with the voice since he knows better.  It takes all of my strength to hold him when he is stubbornly determined.  I only outweigh him by twenty pounds.

We have a daily routine and that, I think, is what helps him to be good.  First, in the morning we patrol the road on leash.  This can be a really slow walk because Murphy’s idea of a walk is to stand and smell and look.  There’s a lot of standing on our morning walks so I sometimes bring something to read. Then I get breakfast and he begins the daily guarding.  Lucky for Murphy we live on a hill so he can get a good vantage point.  At some point in the afternoon is the time of the big walk off leash.  Sometimes we drive a couple of miles to Northern Pond but lately, beginning in hunting season and because of reduced daylight in the winter, we go up the hill and looping through the woods.  He could take himself whenever he wants but waits for me to go with, even though I rarely see him while on the trail.  Ann does a walk most days as well and we generally go separately so that Murphy can have two walks.  He starts to bug her first because he knows she usually walks before I do.  After the afternoon walk, if there is still daylight he can hang out, untied but I remain vigilant because if he gets on a barking jag close to night he could be barking all night.

Murphy in his hunting vest.  Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Murphy in his hunting vest. Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Then it’s food time.  He can eat/snack whenever he wants on meat cereal as I like to call it; there’s always some in his bowl.  Mostly he likes to eat a bit when I do.  He lets me know it’s time to eat in the late afternoon and I feed him his ‘meat in a catfood dish’ that is a mix of ground chicken bone and bits from Mainly Poultry mixed with organic beef liver, grated apple, green bean, and carrot and some raw eggs all with wild salmon oil on it.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Sometimes he turns up his nose at it and other times he asks for seconds.  I let him eat what he wants because he’s not a chow-hound.  I sometimes have to remind him to clean his bowl.

Where Murphy excels is as a guard dog.  If you needed a guard dog that you didn’t want to have to order around, and you have lots of room, a Great Pyrenees could be your dog.  He stations himself in various places around the property, always with an eye to the likely place from whence danger will come.  When one of us is outside working he moves to within twenty feet and turns his back and again watches.  He is constantly vigilant and serious about it.

As a breed Pyrs are barkers, but not gratuitous ones.  There is the regular utility bark that can go on for hours whose purpose is to alert all predators that the area is under the protection of a badass big dog, aka BFD.  Murphy does a bit of this in the morning but mostly he likes to do that utility bark after dinner and at night when the denizens of the woods are out and about.  After dinner I tie him and let him bark for a while until I figure the neighbours have had enough.  In the summer he prefers to stay out all night and he’s smart enough to realize that can only happen if he’s quiet.

Murphy has several alert barks.  I can tell the difference between the bark that lets our neighbour Caren know he’s keeping an eye on her down the hill, the ‘someone I’ve never seen before is driving up’ bark ( he continues that one until one of us comes out to take charge), the ‘friend is driving up’ (UPS guy with treats)bark, the ‘hey! I’m tangled up in the woods’ bark, the ‘critter I want to kill up that tree’ bark, and the ‘I’m here if you’re wondering’ bark.  If he’s not tied and I hear the ‘someone is on the road who doesn’t belong’ bark I come running out because it sounds like he’s ready to attack, but most times that bark is emanating from Murphy, comfortably lying down with his paws crossed.

For all his serious attitude about his job, Murphy is a loving, cuddly bear of a dog with a sense of humour.  He’s grown on me and I’ve adapted my routine to accommodate his basic nature, enough that I would almost entertain having another Pyr as a dog companion.  I do feel like a princess in my realm with the captain of the palace guard ever vigilant on my behalf.   Alas, I’ll never be able to take him to a dog park and he can never be permitted to freely wrestle/play with another dog because, like a grizzly bear, he can escalate to fight/kill mode in an instant.  Still, it’s a gift of some magnitude to be able to communicate with such an intelligent, steadfast and loyal being.  Now if only I could get him to associate the pain of porcupine quills with that enticingly slow animal that frequents our demesne.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB